BOISE -- For young victims, going to court or talking to authorities can be a very scary thing. Now, the Ada County Prosecutor's Office has a new employee to help children cope and give prosecutors better information: A dog named Sunday.
Prosecutors say since Sunday joined in November, she has already helped children explain difficult circumstances, like violent crimes or sexual abuse.
"Her job is to assist crime victims and help them through the difficult times they're going through and help them navigate the criminal justice process," Victim Witness Coordinator, and Sunday's handler, Kristin Friend said.
After six months of research, Friend proposed the idea of getting a courthouse dog to Ada County Prosecutor Greg Bower. Bower says Sunday has already helped with juvenile witnesses.
"My staff tells me that their interactions with victims have been eased and that Sunday is earning her dog food already," Bower said.
Sunday is a two-year-old lab-golden retriever mix. She's specially trained to comfort children and vulnerable adults as they talk with attorneys.
"Depending on how the victim responds, if they're upset, if they're crying or having a difficult time talking, she responds to about 40 different commands, and so she can be positioned or handled in such a way to provide extra comfort for somebody that's having a hard time," Friend said.
Bower says Sunday has such a calming effect on victims and witnesses that they may give prosecutors better information to help build a case.
"It's going to help people give us the whole story, we think. The fact that they're telling something that is so difficult and so terrible to strangers, the presence of Sunday makes all the difference in the world," Bower said.
The idea for Courthouse Dogs came from Ellen O'Neill Stephens, a senior deputy prosecuting attorney in Seattle (King County office).
"My son is disabled. He is in a wheelchair. One day a week, his dog Jeeter couldn't go with him during the course of the day, and instead of leaving Jeeter at home for 11 hours, I decided to bring Jeeter to juvenile drug court," Courthouse Dogs creator Ellen O'Neill-Stephens said.
Eventually O'Neill-Stephens introduced dogs into other areas of the court.
"We've had five year olds be able to testify in court because the dog is by their side and they've been afraid." O'Neill-Stephens said.
Sunday is the first courthouse dog in Idaho. Right now, she only works with young crime victims during initial interviews and meetings. Eventually, she may be able to sit with victims as they testify on the witness stand in court.
Sunday, the courthouse dog, didn't cost any taxpayer dollars. A non-profit organization, Canine Companions for Independence, donated the dog and training. The Idaho Humane Society is providing Sunday's food and medical care.